Monday, February 8, 2016

AUTHOR EVENT :: Sunil Yapa

Your  Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
Sunil Yapa
January 12, 2016
Lee Boudreaux Books
Hardcover, 320 pages

If charm alone could sell books, Sunil Yapa would be at the top of all the bestseller lists. I haven't yet had the chance to read Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, but the raves of some of my fellow bloggers had me intrigued. Also, I'm a sucker for a multi-POV format, so when I heard the author was coming to Book Passage this past Saturday, I jumped at the chance to hear what he had to say.

Those who know me know I'm not a regular attendee of author events. I don't particularly enjoy being read to, and there always seems to be "that guy" in the audience (and oh was there "that guy" on Saturday), so I settled in with some resignation. Sunil stood by my chair while being introduced and rather than stand and listen to his praises, he bent down and communed with Bird, who was lying on the floor next to my feet. Well played. Point scored, game on.

By the time Sunil was done, I was completely won over (and I think my aunt has a little crush; ok, me, too) and Heart has charged its way up my TBR stack. The reason I do attend author events is that every once in a while you get a real gem. The author has personality to spare, the background stories are fascinating or humorous or both, the questions, or at least most of them, are on point and stir discussion. This was one of those events, due in no small part to the personality of Sunil Yapa.

If you haven't heard of the book, set in Seattle during the 1999 WTO protests, here is the summary from Amazon, which selected Heart as an Amazon Best Book for January 2016:

On a rainy, cold day in November, young Victor--a nomadic, scrappy teenager who's run away from home--sets out to join the throng of WTO demonstrators determined to shut down the city. With the proceeds, he plans to buy a plane ticket and leave Seattle forever, but it quickly becomes clear that the history-making 50,000 anti-globalization protesters--from anarchists to environmentalists to teamsters--are testing the patience of the police, and what started out as a peaceful protest is threatening to erupt into violence. 

Over the course of one life-altering afternoon, the fates of seven people will change forever: foremost among them police Chief Bishop, the estranged father Victor hasn't seen in three years, two protesters struggling to stay true to their non-violent principles as the day descends into chaos, two police officers in the street, and the coolly elegant financial minister from Sri Lanka whose life, as well as his country's fate, hinges on getting through the angry crowd, out of jail, and to his meeting with the President of the United States. When Chief Bishop reluctantly unleashes tear gas on the unsuspecting crowd, it seems his hopes for reconciliation with his son, as well as the future of his city, are in serious peril. 

In this raw and breathtaking novel, Yapa marries a deep rage with a deep humanity. In doing so he casts an unflinching eye on the nature and limits of compassion, and the heartbreaking difference between what is right and what is possible.

Sunil started by sharing some character background and reading passages from various perspectives. I was hooked out of the gate, and the reading portion was, to my pleasant surprise, a real treat. We got a taste of some of the major players and it left me wanting more.

When asked (great question), Sunil shared how his biracial heritage (his father is from Sri Lanka - came over with the Beatles if he is to be believed [hint: he is not to be believed] - and his mother a Montana native) leads him somewhat naturally to a multi-point-of-view writing style. This makes total sense but it was still fascinating to hear how those varied backgrounds and cultural points of view were present in Sunil's life and impact his writing.

The great thing about an author's family and/or friends being in the audience is that they often (sometimes slyly) ask a question that unearths a great story which would otherwise remain untold. An old friend of Sunil's asked about the number of characters he started with, which branched off into the horrific yet ultimately uplifting story about his first draft, which was epic in both number of pages (over 600) and number of characters (I forget the number, but it was a large one).

Sunil was writing his book in another country. His entire manuscript was on his laptop. He had no
external electronic backup. He had no printed copy. All was fine until he returned to the U.S. and his laptop was stolen. All that work gone. The bright side of the story is Sunil still had his notes and realized he needed to make changes. The result of that theft and subsequent realization and reworking is the wonderful book that came out last month.

I was happy I dragged my sorry self out to see Sunil and I am now hankering for some extra time to fit Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist into the schedule. I know I'm looking forward to it all the more after meeting the man behind the words and I highly recommend checking Sunil's speaking schedule. If you have the chance to see him at a reading or other event, do so, you won't be disappointed. You will be charmed.

The passed-out-flat-on-back-with-legs-in-the-air position was not a reflection on Sunil's reading.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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